If you’re a DJ who’s interested in house, garage, jungle, grime, or almost any other EDM subgenre, it’s hard to understand the music that’s being produced today without first understanding a bit about the history of Jamaican dub music. This movement has had a huge impact on dance music culture in Jamaica and around the world, and it all began by accident. Here’s a brief introduction to everything you need to know about the EDM subgenre known as Jamaican dub.
The Sound System
In the 1950s in Kingston, there weren’t many music clubs. Instead, DJs traveled around with their own generators, turntables, and sound systems, creating their own music clubs or “sound system” parties in the streets. Competition soon became fierce among sound system operators, as these parties were one of the best ways to make money at the time. This meant that in order to attract audiences, a sound system party had to promise fresh music that no one else had.
In order to ensure exclusivity for their sound system parties, two of Jamaica’s biggest DJs, Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd and Duke Reid, began producing their own one-off singles, or “dubplates.” A dubplate was an exclusive one-time pressing of one song onto one piece of vinyl, meaning that whoever produced the song was the only person to have a copy of it. These were initially re-recordings of American hits made by Jamaican players – by making their own recordings, DJs were able to play spin new hits from America before the American records made their way to Jamaica. Soon, however, these re-recording sessions took on a life of their own, and the Jamaican ska sound was born.
In 1968, while pressing a dubplate for a song called “On the Beach” by the Paragons, engineer Byron Smith made a mistake that would have a huge impact on the development of modern dance music: he left out the vocal. Undeterred, sound system operator “Ruddy” Redwood played the instrumental cut at his next party anyway, and got DJ Wassy to “toast” (rap) overtop of it – essentially creating the template for the modern hip-hop performance. Soon, other producers were making their own “versions” of other singles, not only by leaving out the vocals, but also by adding other effects to the instrumental track like echo and reverb. These “versions” now form the basis of the dub sound we know today.
Selectors and DJs
DJs played a big role in the development of dub, but their role was actually closer to the role of an MC in hip-hop music today. In Jamaica, the DJ was the one who would either “toast” or sing over a backing track (sometimes both), while the Selector was the person who would operate the turntables. Together, the DJ and the Selector formed the central team for a sound system party, and their talent was crucial to the success of their sound system.
Dub Music Today
From these early days of dub, we can already see the development of two major trends that shape EDM today: remixing and rapping. Later, when dub became a worldwide genre, it would go on to influence artists across a variety of EDM subgenres like jungle, drum and bass, house, techno, hip-hop, downtempo, and dubstep. Today, dub music in its original form also lives on through artists like Lee “Scratch” Perry and Mad Professor.
If you’re interested in making some dub sounds of your own, be sure to check out our lesson series on using effects, where DJ Rafh gives you the run-down on effects like delays, reverbs, and filters that are essential to dub music. And for more on the history of EDM subgenres, follow us on Facebook to see the latest blog posts in this ongoing series.